Apr 20, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) high fives pitcher Matt Moore (55) and pitcher David Price (14) after he pitched the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rays Continue To See The Benefits From Creating Pitching Depth In Their Farm System

While David Price, currently on the disabled list, is eager to get back out on the mound after beginning to throw on Monday, the Rays don’t have to sweat about not having their Cy Young Award winner in the rotation like many other teams might. Instead, the Rays called up Jake Odorizzi, who was acquired in the trade that sent James Shields to the Kansas City Royals, to pitch in Price’s place and did not have to scramble to find a replacement for the lefty.

When Rays manager Joe Maddon talked with MLB.com’s Bill Chastain, he told Chastain that depth of pitching is important when the Rays make decisions in the offseason.

“We are not going to go out and purchase the guy [through free agency]. Further, it’s nice to have a younger guy who is on the verge of being that next guy, as opposed to somebody who has been around awhile, who may have some potential problems — physical problems,” Maddon told Chastain. “The fact we have all these different options is just something we nurture. That’s front office and Andrew [Friedman] and the scouts, that’s all on them.”

The Rays are known for keeping their farm system stocked with some of the best arms projected to be star pitchers in the big leagues one day. Last night the Rays sent Odorizzi back down to Triple-A Durham to make room on the roster for a reliever, and it is expected that another one of their top pitching prospects, Chris Archer, will be called up to pitch on Saturday. Archer made his major league debut on June 20, 2012, for the Rays against the Washington Nationals. If Archer is not chosen, the Rays still have a healthy crop of pitchers to choose from at Triple-A, such as Alex Torres or Alex Colome. The depth of pitching the Rays have in their farm system makes them stand out from most organizations in baseball.

“I just think that we know that we have to grow our own, because it’s hard to go out and be able and purchase at a reasonable amount of money what you’re looking for,” Maddon said. “It’s normally overpriced. And a lot of times, it doesn’t work out. We feel strongly that we have to develop our own pitching. We’ve done that. We have to continue to do that to be competitive. If we have to rely on the market for that, we’re going to suffer.”

Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 Rookie of the Year, is now one of the starting pitchers the Rays rely on to help them stay competitive, and he appreciates how the organization prepared him to play in the big leagues.

“You want to be up here, but at the same time, you don’t want to get rushed up here and get up here, and just get crushed the first four or five starts,” Hellickson said. “There are a lot of development stages in the Minor Leagues and Triple-A…From Double-A to Triple-A it’s not too much of a difference. Triple-A to here is a drastic difference.”

“You can’t really explain how big of a step it is. It’s just the hitters are a lot better. They don’t swing at too many pitches outside the zone. They make you throw a lot of pitches and work the counts. They wait for their pitch. And usually if they get it, they don’t miss it. A lot of times in the Minor Leagues, you can make that mistake and it will get fouled off.”

Alex Cobb, another staring pitcher for the Rays, told Chastain that one of the biggest challenges about being in the Rays’ organization is waiting to get called up to join the Rays.

“Here they have to hold on to everybody as long as possible and they have to have that insurance, that backup plan at Triple-A,” Cobb said. ” … You kind of realize the way this organization works.

“People told me when I was coming up, too: ‘Put your time in and your time will come.’ And you don’t believe it. But once you get here, you want to tell them the same thing. ‘It’s true, your time is going to come here. They have a plan for you. The sooner you understand it, the better it’s going to be.’ But it’s kind of hard to grasp that.”

Fortunately for Cobb, his time has come, and he earned a spot in the starting rotation to begin the season for the first time in his career. While the date for Price’s return to the mound is still unknown, the Rays organization certainly has a bright future, as they continue to stock up on pitching prospects.  But for now, players like Hellickson and Cobb can enjoy the benefits that came from paying their dues in the minor leagues and getting called up to join one of the most elite pitching staffs in baseball.

Tags: Alex Cobb David Price Jake Odorizzi Jeremy Hellickson Tampa Bay Rays

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